WHEN Elmer Lippy Jr., one of Carroll County's three...

salmagundi

October 07, 1992

WHEN Elmer Lippy Jr., one of Carroll County's three commissioners, stood up to protect Maryland's honor, he never thought that he would start a world-class imbroglio.

It began when his wife told him about a billboard that had just gone up on Pennsylvania Route 94 about one mile north of the Maryland line. The 8-foot-by-12-foot billboard proclaimed in bold white and yellow letters: "Welcome to Maryland, State of Taxes, just ahead."

Mr. Lippy, an avuncular fellow who steers clear of most controversies, was offended and decided to find out whether the sign was located in the public right-of-way. He called the Frederick office of Maryland's State Highway Administration and spoke to a district engineer. That phone call set into motion a chain of events that shows no sign of stopping soon.

The day after Mr. Lippy contacted the MSHA, a crew of workers hired by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation cut down the offending sign with chain saws. Only afterwards did the department discover that the sign -- owned by Outdoor Advertising and generating revenue of about $600 a month -- had not been posted on public property but was sitting on the edge of a farm.

Unfortunately, nobody had bothered to check on the location, and now the Pennsylvania taxpayers will have part with about $1,000 of their tax dollars to have the sign reconstructed.

But the story doesn't end there. Pennsylvania officials will be taking the sign down 30 days after it goes back up. A Pennsylvania highway official said that the sign was erected without the required permits. Because of zoning requirements and a tough new Pennsylvania standard on billboards, Outdoor Advertising will probably not be able to obtain a permit for the billboard.

Commissioner Lippy said he never meant to squelch free speech, and said he apologized to John O'Keefe, an officer of Outdoor Advertising.

As much as he regrets causing trouble, Mr. Lippy said his concern about the sign's placement was justified. "My obligation as a public official is to make sure we are following the law," he said.

Mr. Lippy also said he is not above using a billboard to send his own message.

"I'd like to see a sign on our side of the line that says, 'Welcome to Maryland, the state of high wages, where many of you in Pennsylvania come to work,' " he said.

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